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5 Persuasion Techniques From Robert Cialdini

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What You Need to Know

  • Robert Cialdini is one of our most authoritative and frequently cited social psychologists.
  • Use the reciprocity principle to boost your business.
  • Learn how to establish instant trust with potential clients to earn business.

Robert Cialdini is one of our most authoritative and frequently cited social psychologists. He’s also the best-selling author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” and “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” Here’s a sample of his practical wisdom.

1. Use the art of pre-suasion.

Before you reach into your bag of logical arguments, soften up your audience with an emotional message that gets them ready for what you really want to sell. Cialdini calls this technique “pre-suasion.”

He recounts how a consultant who was having difficulty getting clients to pay his high fees started his presentation by saying, “I’m not going to be able to charge you a million dollars for this” (though that would have been ideal). Afterward, he was much more successful in getting prospects to pony up the big bucks. That’s because he conditioned them to accept that his service was expensive.

An online furniture store exposed one group of shoppers to website wallpaper of fluffy clouds and another to website images of pennies. The first group later emphasized comfort in their purchases, while the other focused on price.

The key is to plant a message in prospects’ minds that prepares them for your offering — even before you make your request.

2. Get into the right frame of mind.

How do you get yourself into the right frame of mind to achieve your goals? Cialdini says that before we begin our task, we need to focus on thoughts that are aligned with the goals that we want to achieve.

For example, a group of fundraisers who saw pictures of a runner winning a race consistently garnered 60% more money over a four-day period than a control group did. Those images put the idea of success into their minds before they kicked off their project.

Similarly, a group that worked on an assignment requiring complex problem-solving abilities produced superior results by plugging away near a copy of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” That illustration highlighted the value of analytical thinking in their minds before they started their work.

3. Follow the No. 1 rule for top salespeople and learn to establish instant trust with prospects.

Show clients and prospects that you genuinely like them. According to Cialdini, we trust and want to do business with people who sincerely seem to like us. This is a departure from the conventional wisdom of most sales training programs, which advocate pointing out similarities and complimenting prospects to get them to like you.

Cialdini says the techniques he advocates are useful in convincing others that you do indeed like them. He believes that it’s critical for you to find things about your colleagues that you genuinely like. You can’t be a fake. And it’s the best way to convince others that you think highly of them, he adds.

4. Use the reciprocity principle to boost your business.

Small gifts can generate big results, Cialdini says. Giving clients and prospects a small present before you ask them to do something can pay off. Even a cup of coffee or a pen can motivate recipients to respond by doing business with you.

Social psychologists say that we’re wired to be unconsciously motivated to return others’ good deeds. We feel compelled to repay what others offer us. This is called the “reciprocity principle.”

In one study, restaurant waitstaff who gave customers one or two after-dinner mints with their checks got bigger tips. Those who told customers “You guys were great” and gave them a handful of mints racked up the biggest tips of all. This makes sense. When we post on social media, for instance, aren’t we often giving others useful information and hoping they’ll respond by engaging with us?

5. Use the “door in the face” technique.

If you want to persuade someone to do something, you can greatly enhance your chances of success by asking for something really big first. Odds are, they’ll say no. And this is key:

They’ll be slightly uncomfortable saying no, even though they shouldn’t feel bad. This means they’re now primed to say yes to your smaller request.

Researchers call this “the door in the face” technique. It’s the opposite of the better-known “foot in the door” approach. Why does “door in the face” usually work? Psychologists say people don’t like saying no twice in a row. Plus, the second request appears more reasonable.

I once watched my attorney negotiate my lease by making a series of improbable if not outrageous requests to the landlord. It paid off when the landlord later agreed to the less-onerous provisions that my lawyer wanted in the first place.

Mark Elzweig heads executive recruiting firm Mark Elzweig Co. in New York. and Washington Bureau Chief Melanie Waddell can be reached at [email protected].


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